Highly decorated 17th C parish register from St Mary’s, Kidderminster

  • 28th January 2016

Today we are looking at the artistic efforts of a 17th C Worcestershire man.  He found the most ordinary document a medium for expressing his creativity.

A highly decorated page in the St Mary’s, Kidderminster parish register

As family history researchers will know parish registers are a mine of information recording baptisms, marriages and burials.  In the 17th century John Pitt, school master and clerk of St Marys church Kidderminster, found that in making entries into the parish registers he could practice his calligraphy and explore different types of fonts and pen man ship.  As time went on he added decoration, colour and caricatures of Richard Baxter (a Puritanical churchman who helped reform the church in Kidderminster).  He was to go back in the volume and make the entries relating to his forebears much bolder and even highlighted a few by drawing pointing fingers in the margins.

A caricature of Richard Baxter, the Puritan church leader, incorporated into a decorated letter in the St Mary’s, Kidderminster parish register

The February 1645 entries feature a floral flourish

John Pitt, son of a weaver, received little formal education but was to eventually become Head master of King Charles’ school in Kidderminster.  From 1642 he occasionally helped make entries but took on full responsibility in April 1643.  His subheading for April 1645 is particularly delightful, written mainly in colour.  John relinquished the duty of completing the parish registers in April 1646, perhaps after being told to rather focus his energies upon his duty as school master.  Subsequent entries have none of these former flourishes.  James, John’s brother, became parish clerk but he unfortunately did not share his brother’s talents.  In March 1653/4 James re inscribed the entry recording John Pitt’s burial but it lacked the finesse of his brother’s efforts.  From this point James stopped trying to emulate his brother.

The entry for April 1645, decorated by John Pitt

Staff at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service have long admired John Pitt’s efforts and have used them in many outreach activities.  When Martin Wall, eight times great nephew of John Pitt, arrived at The Hive recently to view the work of his ancestor he was overjoyed to hear what high esteem staff held John’s work in.

Carol, Archive Assistant and Martin, the 9 times great nephew of John Pitt, admiring his handiwork together

The Kidderminster St Mary’s parish registers are available to view on microfilm in our Self Service Area at The Hive.

By Carol Wood

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